to top

The Passionate Pursuit of Purpose


Tears cascaded down her heat-flushed face. She felt her throat constrict as her tummy did backflips. She tried to repeat the mantra over and over again, stuttering as she spoke softly to the silent room:

“It doesn’t matter what they call me, it only matters what I answer to.”
“No one can make me feel inferior without my consent”
“I will not let the world tell me who I am.”


Yet all she could think about were her aunt’s parting words:

“You will never amount to anything.”
“I wish I had never wasted my money on you.”
“What are you even doing with your life?”


Her aunty had stormed out of her apartment almost three hours ago, yet the painting that had fallen off its wall hook still lay forlorn by the front door. The glass shards from the broken frame were strewn across the wooden floorboards, frequently catching the reflection of the raindrops on the windowpane. Even as she made a mental note to sweep them up, she let out a sigh and refocused on her feelings. She knew what her passion was; she just wanted to create art. Yet the fact that no one seemed to understand her calling sucked the creativity, and quite frankly the life out of her.


She pulled herself up, crawling on her hands and knees, and slowly moved towards her latest canvas. She stood up, taking her paint palette and brush with her. Pressing ‘play’ on her iPod that was docked in the speakers, the sultry sounds of Asa soon lulled her back into paint-mode. With ease she set brush to easel. She was back where she belonged.


As she confidently brushed the paint onto the canvas, creating beauty from blankness, she mulled over her aunt’s words.


‘Fine,’ she thought. ‘Her aunt didn’t understand her non-traditional choice of career path, but she did not have to.’


She had tried out the nursing thing for 4 years and she was miserable. She understood the importance of the profession but had no passion for it. However the last 18 months of painting, exhibiting her art, designing the charity art showcase, and living at the center of what drove her had been magical. She had never felt so free. So alive. So energized.


As her eyes distractedly surveyed the fallen art she realized that she had to do more than simply chase her dreams.


Two years ago she had told her family and friends she was quitting medicine to convert her passion for painting into a profession. Even though they had tried vehemently to convince her out of it she thought that once she had made definite moves in that direction, whether they understood or not, everyone would leave her alone. She thought that after her art was showcased during the National Economic Forum her family would understand that her work was important. She thought that now that she was able to support herself from her artwork they would place similar value on her work. She had thought wrong.


She sighed deeply, realizing that her work was far from over. Upending her whole life to redirect herself towards her passions had only been half the job. Now she realized she had to be more strategic, more intentional, more consistent about building herself up to be her greatest cheerleader.


We all have dreams that keep us up at night and passions that drive us. There are things we do that come naturally to us and bring us incomparable joy. It might be creating a painting from a blank canvas, putting words of wisdom on a blank page, organizing an event from idea through to execution, MC’ing at a conference, creating classy clothes from reams of fabric, giving presentations in power suits, etc. Whatever it is we must be sure to not only chase our passions, but also steel ourselves against the resistance that arises.


Fueling our passions requires more than just fueling our passions. It also requires fueling ourselves. Living our dreams and not giving up during its formative stages is important. However, we must also be sure that we are mentally and emotionally prepared to stay the course. There is often opposition along the way – which is to be expected. Not everyone will understand our calling, and not everyone will support our dreams. There are those who will want to crumple our blueprints and toss them in the trash, deeming them unworthy of attention or devoid of talent. This does not matter. What does matter is how we react to these naysayers. And rather than collapse crying or be tempted to throw our [passion] baby out with the [negative] bathwater, we need to be proactive in our approach.


It is hard to drown out voices. Hard to ignore criticism. As one grows older we find that most relationships are meant to be prioritized and managed rather than discarded. Most times we cannot simply cut a person off because we do not like what they are saying, and it is hard to automatically delete their words once they have been spoken over us. Even when we recognize that their words have no value it is still hard to get them out of our heads. This is why it is of utmost importance to build our version of ourselves up and to build our version of our visions up. Then when the negativity comes, what we have deposited within ourselves acts like a force field that repels that negativity while protecting our ultimate objectives.


Her mantra was spot on. “Do not let the world tell you who you are.” “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” “It does not matter what they call you, it only matters what you answer to.” These are all easy to digest catch phrases that hold real value, but when put in a real life situation it is harder to regurgitate these nuggets of wisdom. It is hard because when that lump is already in one’s throat and that knot is already tied in the pit of one’s stomach it feels there is no passageway through which these passages can rise and work their “feel good” magic.


Therefore proactivity is the order of the day. Nothing quite repels negativity and strengthens resolve like preparing for it in advance.


First of all you must decide that the pursuit of your passion is more important than the opinions of others. No one is going to live in your reality with you, quite like you. So be unapologetic about following your heart and charting your own career path – no matter how conventional or nontraditional it appears to the casual or overly invested observer.


You must decide that to live in your version of your destiny is more important than to check off the boxes other people have created for you.


You must really want to arrive at the destination your passion pulls you in and realize that you might lose the support and respect of friends and family along the way – and you have to be okay with that.


When it comes to fueling your passion and connecting based on your purpose you must be a savage in deciding who to share you dreams, your progress, your achievement and your failures with. This information is not for every passerby, or even for everyone you share a bloodline with. You must guard your dreams and share them with those who can help in their accomplishment and those who can build up the esteem required for you to accomplish them.


You must assess your company and identify supporters, detractors, and neutralists. When you have assessed these individuals – expect them to be true to the category you have placed them in. Therefore do not be surprised when detractors rain down detrimental statements and negativity. Also, ensure you do not provide fuel for this fire. Postpone all pity parties till they are unavoidably detained elsewhere.


You must honestly and objectively assess yourself and determine if you fall squarely in the supporter category. If you do not find yourself to be a true supporter of yourself then you have two choices. You must either abandon your mission entirely or adjust your vision, passion, and positive messaging until you become your biggest cheerleader. If you are not ready to assume the role, you are ultimately wasting your time. You cannot build a dream you do not believe in. You cannot achieve a vision you are unable to see.


You must protect your time fiercely. You must refuse to waste time trying to get people to buy into your vision or to validate the worth of your plans or your self. You alone must decide that it is worth it and anyone who cannot appreciate that must be to a degree marginalized out of that area of your life.


You must spend time dreaming. You must spend time building that dream in your mind’s eye. You must nurture your dream. Adding detail and design to it as you go along. You must celebrate your progress and your success. You must speak to your dream, sing sweetly to it – reminding it of your commitment and your fondness towards it – coaxing it out piece by piece.


If our lovely artist spent all her time crying and convincing her aunty of the validity of her dreams she would not get any painting or associated work done. She would not be able to connect the brushstrokes between her talent and her ultimate purpose. Things will progress far beyond putting paint on a canvas for our fair lady; things birthed from pursuing her passions. If you stick with us you will see just how far her passions take her.

More importantly, if you stick with your own vision and dreams, letting your talent guide you, you will live the life you were destined for.


Zeni St. John

  • Haye Okoh

    Zeni, this popped up in my notifications and as usual, I said I’d leave it there so I wouldn’t forget to read it later. Not exactly how the plan went. I opened it. Lol

    I think you told my story and the one of many other people around me. Sad thing is, a good number of them still haven’t gotten up to put brush to easel. They’re still in law school. I’m not saying the degree is bad but we all have to decide and then stand up to be who we ‘need’ to be. A lot of us were given brushes by God but we’ve flung them away because it ‘didn’t make sense’ and they ‘couldn’t have paid so much money for an education for you to now be a painter’.

    I was told to stop joking and get a real job. I was told that it was too risky for a GIRL to be a photographer, why wouldn’t i want to work in an office where I have security…like every other person. I answered, ‘because I am not any other person. I have a gift and I’m not going to tuck away or do it part time because I didn’t want to be broke’. Its a crazy industry I jumped into, to be honest and there were factors that discouraged me DAILY. I thought over and over that I really shouldn’t have dodged med school. I should have stayed…but NO. Those thoughts often disappeared very quickly.

    During NYSC, an officer asked what school I went to and when I told him, he asked if I paid the fees or I was on scholarship…because, it’s not possible for your father to have paid that amount of money and I’m here carrying camera ‘upandan’. I laughed and told him, ‘I’ll soon be paid much more than you are, no be because I be corper? Just wait’. Of course he thought that was a very naive thing to have said and truth be told, so did I. I went away as I considered tossing my ‘brush’…it didn’t make sense anymore. After all, it wasn’t too late. I was serving my country so I could still get a good job…safe, in an office. I did. Horror! I couldn’t do it for too long. I was bored out of my skin. I felt like a withdrawing junkie. After POP, I didn’t even say goodbye. I was out. There were times I was extremely broke and I asked myself, who sent me? But I pushed. I took more pictures. I looked for ways to improve. I refused to let go regardless of how much sense people said I wasn’t making. I look at it now and I haven’t arrived yet but it took 5 years to get where I am today. I am a photographer. God gave me a gift and not letting it go for a job that any other person does. It’s very risky, what I do. But please leave me alone…I amounted to something.

    September 27, 2016 at 7:30 am Reply
  • SR St John

    Zen what a rich post. Loved reading this and Haye’s comments. Reminds me of one of my old poems which I’ll share below.

    “Brushstrokes Make a Landscape Beautiful”

    To each her brush
    For the palette of her being
    For brushstrokes to fashion out the flair
    Of her landscape beautiful
    From the colours of our existence
    Rooted in time before time was known.

    To each her thrilling soul crush
    A love affair with self, unfurling from
    the deep, the hue that is the cue
    That is the very essence of you.
    Shall you then not know, not feel the flow of colours within you?
    To breathe but not be the breather of the breath?
    To be a montage of others expectations
    Ghosting, coasting along?


    Brushstrokes. Brushstrokes make a landscape beautiful. Rita St John©

    September 27, 2016 at 10:32 pm Reply
  • Sekyen

    True words! It’s a lovely piece….i always get asked why I don’t practice law after paying so much for law school but when you are not passionate about something you will never give your best and you will always be miserable doing it.

    September 28, 2016 at 5:18 am Reply
  • Prof. Onyia

    The passionate pursuit of purpose is a masterpiece especially for those seeking the path which all the while has been in front of them. Sometimes we tend to allow the noise reset our God intended gps. In doing so confusion sets in and we lose ourselves and sometimes blame others for what we turn out to be later in life.. Touched because I saw my earlier days in the story .. The days I was pushed to head to medical school when I didn’t have the desire or capacity to excel.. Thankfully I settled for parasitology and entomology. God helped redirect me to what I am today- a proud classroom teacher and a happy one at that .. eventually daddy accepted and was proud of me but it was a battle.. not sure I was intentional about following my path.. mine was more of grace and not intent. You are a blessing.

    October 3, 2016 at 7:18 pm Reply

Leave a Comment